Once again, the Texas Longhorns are set to welcome a ranked foe to the Forty Acres. This time around, it’s the No. 12 West Virginia Mountaineers for a ranked meeting with Big 12 title implications at stake.
Between West Virginia boasting a top 15 offense and arguably the best defense in the Big 12, the BON staff got together to discuss whether or not Texas can topple yet another ranked team at Darrell K Royal—Texas Memorial Stadium, or if the Mountaineers will simply be too much.
Prior to last Saturday, the last time Texas lost, the Longhorns responded by winning six consecutive games. What kind of response do you expect this time around after a humbling loss to Oklahoma State?
Wescott Eberts - Team Site Producer: I do have confidence now in the ability of Texas to positively respond to adversity and play hard -- that’s been a hallmark of the Tom Herman era. A sellout crowd in Austin should help bolster the team’s energy, too, and that crowd support has definitely been a factor in Texas winning all four home games this season.
Cody Daniel - Co-Editor: I think Texas still has a tremendously challenging stretch coming vs West Virginia, Texas Tech, and Iowa State, and I think Texas loses somewhere along the way, but I still think finishing at 9-3 would be a solid response.
Joe Hamilton - Recruiting Reporter: I think Texas will put up a fight as the season comes to a close. This week’s game against West Virginia will be very telling about which Texas team we will see throughout the remainder of the season.
Anthony Rizzo - Contributor: With Texas being right in the thick of things atop the Big 12, I expect this team to come out strong on Saturday. There’s no excuse for this team to not respond well in front of a sold-out crowd. The theme of this season has been coming out flat on the road. At home it’s been much different. They’ve fed off the energy of DKR and have reestablished a true home-field advantage in Austin.
Considering that the loser no longer controls its destiny within the Big 12 title race, is Saturday’s meeting with WVU the most important game of the Tom Herman era?
Wescott: There’s probably a fair argument to make in that regard. It’s arguably the most important game in regards to a Big 12 title race that Texas has played since traveling to Baylor to close the season in 2013. I think there’s some competition from the bowl game last year and the Oklahoma this season, but I would give Saturday’s game a slight edge.
Cody: I would say so because with a win, Texas’ odds to make the title game jump to 72 percent with three games left. The Longhorns actually have a true chance to achieve something -- a Big 12 title -- this late in the season for the first time in nearly an entire decade. That may all go away with a loss.
Joe: This Texas team needs to win this week to keep their conference hopes alive. I’d say that this game is definitely one of Herman’s most important games, not just because they have a Big 12 title shot, but because this program needs to get back to winning those crucial games consistently.
Anthony: In terms of Big 12 play, every game has been just as important throughout this season. Even with the stakes being so high, I don’t know if I’d consider it the most important game. It’s all about the ‘1-0’ mentality week-by-week.
Will Grier may be the best QB Texas will have seen this season, and the same can be said for his WR core. How concerned should a Texas’ secondary that ranks 90th in passing yards per game and 52nd in passing defense efficiency be?
Wescott: Extremely. The Longhorns were lucky to avoid playing a full game against Grier last season when he dislocated his finger trying to scramble for a touchdown and he’s every bit as good as his accolades. So are the wide receivers. And this secondary is definitely scuffling right now. Kris Boyd has been inconsistent, PJ Locke III has been poor in coverage all year, and each of the safeties had their worst performance of the season last week. That whole group needs to step up and respond across the board or West Virginia could drop 40 or more points on Texas.
Cody: Todd Orlando spoke earlier this week about replicating Iowa State’s success and leaving as many as eight in coverage, which should help prevent the big plays in bulk. Obviously, Texas’ defensive backs have struggled quite a bit in coverage this season, but I think more than anything, the scheme could help cover some deficiencies, though I still think WVU passes for 280-plus.
Joe: Although the future looks bright in the secondary, that potential on the back end will not be able to save the defense this season. It honestly starts up front for the Texas defense. If they can find a way to apply some pressure and dial up some effective blitzes, you’ll see the secondary play well. I think this is a game where you’ll see guys like B.J. Foster and Caden Sterns make those game changing plays.
Anthony: After last week’s coverage against Tylan Wallace and company, this West Virginia offense has the capability of doing the same, if not more damage. Air-raid offenses are always scary because they spread you out so much and tackling in space one-on-one becomes very pivotal. Considering the recent struggles of Kris Boyd handling one-on-one coverage, there should be a safety overtop at all times, as he’ll be matched up with David Sills. The secondary could be in for a long day against West Virginia’s versatile receivers.
The stats and eye tests say Sam Ehlinger has outplayed USC’s J.T. Daniels, TCU’s Shawn Robinson, and Oklahoma’s Kyler Murray. Will the Longhorns gunslinger outperform yet another prolific gunslinger on Saturday in Will Grier?
Wescott: That will be a tough task. The West Virginia defense has been a bit inconsistent and given up some big plays, so I think Ehlinger has a chance to perform well, but unless Texas can get to Grier to produce sacks or force a couple turnovers, Grier will likely put up bigger numbers.
Cody: If Ehlinger remains as efficient as he has this season and Texas wins then I think it may seem that way on film, but then you’ll check the box score and Grier will have 60-80 more yards and one or two more touchdowns.
Joe: Ehlinger has continued to play an outstanding game of football over the past seven games. He and the coaching staff understand what he brings to the table. I think Ehlinger has officially found his bread and butter, and you’ll continue to see him be that game manager with deceptive running ability. I don’t think he’ll necessarily outplay Grier this week.
Anthony: I’d like to say so but, no. Outside of a tough performance against a very good Iowa State team, Grier has eclipsed 330 passing yards and 3 TDs every game. Statistically Grier will have the better game but if Ehlinger can do the necessary things to get the win, that’s all that really matters. By the way, I don’t think Shawn Robinson falls under the prolific gunslinger category.
If Texas is 7-2 by Saturday evening, what will the the Longhorns have done well against WVU?
Wescott: It’s going to take much better third-down defense and likely several turnovers, along with more consistency catching the ball than Lil’Jordan Humphrey and Collin Johnson showed last week. Hard to envision a win without some individual greatness from Keaontay Ingram, too.
Cody: For starters, Texas needs to get off the field on third down, and the offense needs to not only establish a reliable running game to control the clock, but Texas will need some big plays here and there, whether that’s from Collin Johnson and Lil’Jordan Humphrey, or Keaontay Ingram breaking free. Texas likely needs to force a couple turnovers, too.
Joe: They would have had a successful rushing attack, four plus sacks, along with forcing Will Grier to throw multiple interceptions. The Texas defense will have to play one of their best games of the season in order to move on to 7-2. Putting together impressive drives on offense that keeps the clock rolling will be key also. Texas needs to be in control for this matchup and not play to West Virginia’s game.
Anthony: Winning the battle in the trenches will be key offensively. If there’s ever a game where Texas needs Keaontay Ingram to have that monster game, it’s this one. Against a up-tempo, high-scoring offense it’d be nice to control the game speed to avoid a shootout. The bend-don’t-break style of play might be the move defensively. If that’s the case, the defense will have to make those key stops and force turnovers when needed.
Prediction time: Does Texas bounce back and remain undefeated at home in front of a sold out DKR?
Wescott: No, I don’t think so. Iowa State laid out the game plan for how to beat West Virginia, but I don’t think that the Texas defense is capable of executing it right now, especially without Chris Nelson in the middle. West Virginia 41, Texas 38.
Cody: I think we’re in for another close, fourth quarter finish, but I think West Virginia is just better on both sides of the ball and that will be enough to escape Austin with a win. West Virginia 34, Texas 27.
Joe: I think you see Texas bounce back this week. I don’t think it’ll be pretty, but I see a special teams or defensive touchdown giving Texas the edge. West Virginia 27, Texas 30.
Anthony: West Virginia’s offense will be too much in this one. Mountaineers 38, Longhorns 28.
Bonus: Is Country Roads an overrated song?
Wescott: Nope, not at all. I just listened to it and now I want to go to West Virginia.
Cody: It is this week.
Joe: I’ve never heard of “Country Roads”.
Anthony: No, it’s a true John Denver classic that’ll never age. It’s cool how it’s became a theme for opponents to sing in the locker room after beating West Virginia.